Date: 15 Dec. 2017
Case Study: The Making of ‘The Redeeming’ by Brian Barnes
Filmmaker: Brian Barnes
indieactivity: What is your film about?
Brian: ‘The Redeeming’ is a mesmerising ‘spider and the fly’ psychological thriller that plays out over the course of one night. It keeps you gripped, because the characters are so unpredictable that you never know what’s going to happen next. We’ve made the film for fans of recent films like ‘Get Out’, ‘Blue Ruin’, ‘It Comes At Night’ and ‘Don’t Breathe’, and classics like ‘Psycho’, ‘Misery’ and ‘The Shining’. Disturbed single mother Joyce must protect her home from mysterious stranger John, but her struggle to hold onto her sanity could doom them both.
After a fight and chase through the house, a shocking twist reveals just how fragile Joyce’s reality has become. Director Brian Barnes was inspired to make the film, because he was so impressed by the lead actress Tracey Ann Wood (Joyce) at an audition that he wanted to make a feature with her as soon as possible. He had access to a location, so he asked writer Roger Thomas to cook up a story that could combine these elements.
indieactivity: Tell us about the festival run, marketing and sales?
Brian: ‘The Redeeming’ plays its world premiere at the Horror-on-Sea Film Festival in Southend, Essex, UK on Sunday 28th January 2018. As the film is a psychological thriller, a horror festival is a good fit for us. We’re rolling out on VOD in 12 countries on the next day. Our strategy was that we didn’t need much of a festival run for the film, as the very clear genre of ‘The Redeeming’ would be enough of a draw for dedicated fans.
However, the world premiere event gives us a marketing hook to get some press coverage and focus attention on our launch. I did a lot of research at the Cannes film market to work out how to present the film to distributors through its poster and trailer. I compiled a list of my favourite distributors whom I thought would be good partners for the film.
When I pitched the film to my top choice distributor, they asked for a screener at once. 90 minutes later, they immediately offered me a deal, because I had done my preparation properly. (It takes 85 minutes to watch the film, so they must have spent only 5 minutes deciding on what deal to offer me!)
indieactivity: Dramatic Feature
Brian: ‘The Redeeming’ is the debut feature film directed by Brian Barnes and produced by him under his usual alias of Berni Snarba. The total budget including all deferments and ‘in-kind’ deals is US$150,000, but we actually got the film in the can for about half the cost of the used small car that you see in the film.
We toured film festivals in 2012 and 2013 with our award-winning psychological horror short film ‘The Urge’. Many fans of that film asked us how they could help us with our filmmaking. Half-jokingly, Brian said, ‘Give me money to make a feature film!’ To his surprise and delight, some of them did. It wasn’t a lot of money, but it was enough to get the ball rolling and we were underway. There was no formal financing process, as we simply ‘reverse-budgeted’ the film – we worked out how we could make the film for the money we already had.
We moved all the cast and crew to a remote location in the middle of the Somerset, Southwest England countryside. We all lived and worked in the same house, so getting to work in the morning was as simple as walking into the next room. We shot the film in 9 days, averaging 9 pages per day. However, to create more slack in the schedule for the more intense scenes, we shot 10, 11 and 12 pages on 3 days.
In fact, we became such an efficient crew that by the last day, we were actually sitting around ‘waiting for the light to be right’ – on a no-budget film! Director of Photography Matt Aucott brought his camera with him, a Sony NEX-EA50 with cine-style primes, which shoots an 8-bit NXCAM codec. We’ve finished the film in ProRes 4444 to ensure the best quality in the grading and we’re delivering ProRes 422 (HQ) with 5.1 sound to the VOD platforms.
We’re also doing a DCP for the London West End screening we’re setting up. Our world premiere is at the Horror-on-Sea Film Festival in Southend, Essex, UK on 28th January 2018. It’s a world-renowned festival and people come from all over the world to attend, but for us it’s just a one-hour train ride from London! Visit our website at theredeeming
indieactivity: Give the full official synopsis for your film?
Brian: ‘The Redeeming’ is an absorbing psychological thriller in which disturbed single mother Joyce (Tracey Ann Wood) must confront mysterious stranger John (Ryan Wichert) and the echoes of her past to protect her home. For many years Joyce has been free of the bad memories that haunted her dreams. Events she was happy to forget.
But fragments are beginning to return. They confuse her and she would rather they were dead and buried. As Joyce becomes more disturbed, she seeks peace in an isolated cottage, miles from anywhere. Even in this silent retreat, she cannot escape the troubling images that taunt her and make no sense. The unexpected arrival of a mysterious young man is a respite from her thoughts – despite her suspicions of how he came to be there.
However, the longer the man remains at the cottage, the more Joyce becomes confused by his possible connection to her. Horrific memories flood back into her mind, and this man’s insistence that she remember her past could push Joyce over the edge.
indieactivity: Development & Financing?
Brian: rI’ve been wanting to make a feature film ever since I started making films back in 1987, because I’ve always felt hemmed in by the short film format. To that end, I’m always looking for opportunities to get a feature off the ground. 99 times out of 100, our efforts come to naught – we can’t raise enough money, an actor isn’t available, the location falls through.
There’s any number of reasons why a film doesn’t happen. I have been working with my writing partner Roger Thomas since about 2006 and together we have developed about 4 or 5 feature scripts, but never been able to get them made. We’ve also made a short film and a web series together, so we have a great working relationship.
In late 2013, I was directing a commercial for a car finance company and the budget on that job was big enough for me to stage a large open casting at the world-famous Ealing Studios in London. The second actress to walk through the door was Tracey Ann Wood (Joyce), whose charisma and talent blew me away immediately. She was the finest performer I had ever encountered and I wanted to use her talents as soon as I could, before someone else discovered her! Straight after the casting session, I rang Roger and asked him to start writing a script for her at once.
I gave Roger a ‘Rodriguez list’ – we had a location, a lead actress, a gun and a car – and I asked Roger to work out a story that could incorporate all of those elements. (The idea of a Rodriguez list comes from Robert Rodriguez’s ‘Rebel Without a Crew’ book. Rodriguez actually took the idea from Roger Corman.) We shot the commercial, and then at the end of the shoot I drew Tracey to one side and told her about the feature script we were writing for her. She asked to read it and signed on immediately. We already had some money in place, because for the previous 18 months we had been touring festivals with our award-winning psychological horror short film ‘The Urge’. That had attracted some attention from fans, who asked us how they could help us with our filmmaking.
Half-jokingly, I said, ‘Give me money to make a feature film!’ To my surprise and delight, a couple of them did and we could get the ball rolling. They didn’t give us a lot of money, but they were backing me, not any project in particular, as I didn’t have a feature ready to go at that stage. The effect was mainly psychological – it gave me a boost in confidence that there would be an audience for my films, if I could get them made.
We ‘reverse-budgeted’ the film – we worked how to shoot the film for the money that we already had available, so there was no need to go through any kind of formal financing process. Because we had written the story for a location that we already had access to, once we had an approved script that we liked we therefore had no obstacles to making the film and could go ahead immediately. I asked Roger to start on the script in August, he delivered it in October and we were shooting by the end of January – only 3 months later.
Brian: I made 25 short films prior to making ‘The Redeeming’. On those films, I served as the director, producer, assistant director, editor and occasionally the cinematographer too. I’m therefore very skilled at setting up and managing resources on a no-budget scale. ‘The Redeeming’ is all set in one remote house location. We had a ‘locked’ location going into the script writing process, and we already had our lead actress in place too.
Pre-production was therefore very relaxed and mostly spent on collecting or making other props and working out the logistics of getting the cast and crew to such a remote location. As it happened, three weeks before shooting, the location actually fell through and we had to find another one in a hurry! The new location turned out to be much better than the original, so we lucked out there.
However, because our budget was so small, we couldn’t afford to scout the new location and had to rely on pictures from the internet! We were on location for 10 days and shot for 9 days of that time straight through without a break. We worked 8am to 8pm most days, although we did go over by an hour on one or two days. We all lived and worked in the same house, so we ended every day with a lovely group dinner round the kitchen table, where we shared war stories and a few beers.
We scheduled the main set first, which was the living room of the house. We spent 4 days in there and then we started moving round the house to shoot the other scenes. Because we had to maintain such a high page count of 9 pages per day on average, I knew that there was a strong possibility that we might not get all the scenes covered on location. I had therefore drawn up a list of scenes that could be dropped and picked up later back in London after principal photography.
My Director of Photography Matt Aucott and I had made a web series 18 months earlier, where we had successfully shot 8 pages a day, including massive location moves, so I felt confident that we could manage 9 pages a day in one location. In the event, we did get everything covered on location, although it did seem touch and go a couple of times. After the shoot, we set up a cutting room in London with my editor Leo Martin. Leo and I spent 18 months working on the story in the cut, including a 2-hour pickup shoot with my friend David Savva to flesh out a bit of backstory that wasn’t quite clear enough.
Vital to this process were the test screenings we carried out. Three times we pulled in a test audience and showed them the rough cut to get their notes on what was and wasn’t working with the film. Absorbing their feedback was a very tricky and time consuming process, but it was essential to making the film as good as it is. Crucially, the film always scored at least 7 out of 10 at these screenings, so we knew we were onto something with ‘The Redeeming’.
Once we locked the picture, we then spent another 15 months working on the sound design with our sound expert Lewis Clark. I’m a big believer that the sound is more than half of the film, especially with a psychological thriller. Through Lewis’s help, we mixed the film in 5.1 at a major London West End facility that has been home to some huge productions, such as ‘Skyfall’ and ‘Fortitude’. We were able to do plenty of ADR to finesse some performance nuances and the resultant mix sounds really impressive, helped by the wonderful soundtrack by Onur T. Yıldırım.
indieactivity: Festival Preparation & Strategy?
Brian: In my research at Cannes, I had discovered that the best chance of selling a film made for no money by an unknown director with unknown actors is to have a very clear genre. I then researched a little more and discovered that the top selling genres are horror, sci-fi, action and thriller. Because thriller is my favourite genre and I knew I had a good chance I could sell it, I asked Roger Thomas to write a thriller.
He cooked up a deliciously entertaining psychological thriller in ‘The Redeeming’. Because its genre was so clear, I reasoned that we didn’t need to do much of a festival run to attract an audience, as the genre would do the selling for us. Therefore my plan was always to get the film into one festival for a world premiere and get it out on VOD as soon as possible after that. The best home for the film was always going to be a genre festival, so I was delighted when we were invited by Horror-on-Sea to host our world premiere. They actually played the UK premiere of ‘The Urge’, so it felt like coming back home.
indieactivity: The Release?
Brian: We play our world premiere at the Horror-on-Sea Film Festival on 28th January and we release on VOD in 12 countries the next day. We’ve partnered with a distributor, who are handling the delivery to all the platforms. Their plan is to debut on Amazon Instant Video. Google Play and YouTube Movie Rentals will come next, followed by iTunes and Vudu over the following weeks. I’m really excited and curious to see how ‘The Redeeming’ will do in the marketplace.
indieactivity: Advice from the Filmmaker?
Brian: Filmmaking is a supremely practical skill. Therefore, always be looking for ways to be shooting and making films, rather than just thinking or talking about it. Make your ‘Rodriguez list’ – a list of all the resources you have available to you – and work out a concept or story that will fit those parameters. Most of the short films I have made have used this model, and now I have shown that it also works with a feature film. For me, unless you have great performances in your film you have nothing, so I always cast the very best actors I can find and you should too. And to help develop your actors’ performances, the best thing you can do is a short acting course yourself. Training as an actor has been the single best thing I have ever done to improve my work with actors. When you have no money, the thing that elevates your film is performance and innovative storytelling. You can’t compete with the ‘big boys’ in terms of production value, so concentrate on these other areas.